February is National Senior Independence Month, so it’s the perfect time to increase awareness of common household hazards that could limit the independence of older Americans.
Clutter is more than just an eyesore — it poses serious health risks. For example, piles of magazines could hide dangerous dust and mold, which can trigger upper respiratory infections; mask the signs of rodent exposure, or spark fires if placed too close to an outlet. And if clutter has stacked up in the pathways of a home, it increases your chances of a physical injury that could inhibit your mobility and make it difficult for you to get around and live on your own.
If anything has piled high enough to prevent your ability to dust, mop, or vacuum in the space, it’s time to take control and start sorting so you can maintain your independence.
Where to begin
Start with the rooms you use most frequently. For most, this will be the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom (in that order).
A cluttered kitchen is a health and safety risk because you need a clean, sanitary space to prepare meals — necessary to maintain your health as well as your independence. Common kitchen safety hazards, such as sharp cooking tools and open flames, become exaggerated in the presence of clutter.
Almost as important as the kitchen is the bathroom, where dangerous bacteria and mold love to lurk. Many bathroom items, including bath mats and towels, should be cleaned on a regular basis, and cleaning products and toiletries should be easily accessible to kill off harmful bacteria that could lead to infection, viruses, or other issues requiring medical oversight.
Seniors should also prioritize the bedroom, since this is a place to rest and enjoy comfort within your home. If there isn’t a clear path to the bed, you’ll experience stress just trying to get into bed and could hurt your chances at a peaceful night’s sleep. Plus, you also increase your risk of falling in the poorly lit nights and mornings.
Once your kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and other common areas are livable, move on to the more hidden spaces in your home like the basement, attic, or closet. Unseen clutter, such as paperwork, storage, and tchotchkes can still be hazardous. You’re better off clearing these items out to make space for things you still use and need.
Limited mobility as well as different ideas of what “junk” and collectibles are put seniors at a higher risk for clutter than younger generations. As you and your families embark on the decluttering process, keep an eye out for a few common traps.
One common barrier is believing possessions have a higher face value than they do. This could be true in some cases, but most items typically aren’t worth what you think. Instead of blindly holding onto “valuable” items, you can assess their worth by checking their current auction price on sites, like eBay or Facebook Marketplace. Consider selling items that aren’t worth as much as you thought — the best possible outcome is making money on your clutter!
Another challenge lurking in your storage space is legacy gifts — the family treasures you plan to pass on to family members or friends. If you’re holding onto cherished family heirlooms you believe your relatives will want when you’re gone, check with them now. Do they actually want the item you’ve been saving? Can you pass it along sooner? Boomers tend to value physical possessions, but younger generations are more focused on experiences and may not be as tied to “things.”
If your physical possessions aren’t holding you back, your family members might be. Some seniors claim they can’t get rid of stuff because they’re storing the items for their family members. If your clutter is a result of your family, give them a deadline. Say you’ll keep an item until a certain date, and if they don’t come pick it up, it will be donated or hauled away. Putting your foot down is an important part of hitting your independence goals!
Making the change
The most important thing to remember is it’s never too late to clean up and take control of your independence. Eliminating avoidable trip and health hazards from your home can help you maintain your regular routine without assistance as you age.
In honor of Senior Independence Month, tackle clutter one room at a time and remember it’s okay to ask for help, whether from a family member or a certified junk removal service, who can offer a confidential experience to put you on track to a safer living experience.
About the Author
Kelly Barnes is the co-owner of JDog Junk Removal & Hauling Brunswick in Brunswick, Ohio. JDog Junk Removal & Hauling is a national junk removal franchise owned and operated by Veterans and military family members that recycles, reuses, or repurposes 60-80 percent of the “junk” they haul away.